- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2000

James Riady, a 20-year associate of Bill Clinton and the scion of the $12-billion, Indonesia-based Lippo Group conglomerate, continues to figure prominently in the four-year-old investigation of Mr. Clinton's seemingly insatiable appetite for foreign lucre to finance his presidential campaigns. Mr. Riady is reportedly under criminal investigation for his role in funneling illegal contributions to Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns. Despite the president's highly touted, world-class memory, which can precisely recall self-serving conversations that occurred more than a quarter-century ago and can rattle off precinct-by-precinct results from New Hampshire primaries, Mr. Clinton seems to have completely drawn a blank whenever he is asked about Mr. Riady.

In a four-hour interview on April 21 with Justice Department campaign-finance task force director Robert J. Conrad Jr., Mr. Clinton's memory repeatedly, and conveniently, failed him. The president said he "can't remember any specific thing" about a pledge to contribute $1 million to his 1992 campaign that Mr. Riady made to him during a limousine ride in August 1992. Mr. Conrad tried to prod the president's memory, noting that "in August of 1992 an offer of $1 million would have been something that was of some interest" to Mr. Clinton's presidential candidacy. "Yeah," Mr. Clinton contemptuously acknowledged, "if he said that, I'm surprised I don't remember it."

Longtime Riady associate John Huang, a convicted felon who is at the heart of the campaign-finance scandal, told investigators that he met with Mr. Riady shortly after the limo ride to arrange for thousands of dollars in donations, which were ultimately illegally laundered through U.S.-based employees of Mr. Riady's Lippo Group empire. Huang recalled later that Mr. Riady had relayed the limo conversation to him and that Mr. Clinton was startled by the pledge he later could not remember. As reported by Jerry Seper of The Washington Times, Huang told the FBI that Mr. Riady devised the illegal scheme in order to avoid being identified by the American press and to falsely demonstrate a wider appearance of support for candidate Clinton in the Asian-American community.

Mr. Conrad also queried the president about a June 23, 1994, White House meeting he had with Mr. Riady. Earlier that day Mr. Riady had met with former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, who was being investigated for billing irregularities at his former law firm and for tax fraud, two felonies to which Hubbell later pleaded guilty. At the time, the financially strapped Hubbell was a potential witness in the Whitewater investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Mr. Conrad asked the president if he recalled Mr. Riady telling him that he was going to provide Hubbell with financial help. Once again, Mr. Clinton's famous steel-trap memory conveniently failed him. As it happened, four days after the Clinton-Riady and Riady-Hubbell meetings, a Riady-controlled business wired $100,000 to Hubbell, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable payments from other White House cronies as well. In the end, the newly financially flush Hubbell, whose father-in-law was involved in sham real-estate transactions with the president's Whitewater partners, Jim and Susan McDougal, who were also convicted of several felonies, failed to cooperate with the Whitewater investigators.

Mr. Riady has recently made yet another interesting appearance in the campaign-finance investigation, this one involving Vice President Al Gore. It has been known for nearly four years that during the 1996 re-election campaign Arief Wiriadinata and his wife, whose father was a major partner with Mr. Riady in the Lippo Group, contributed nearly $500,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). At one of the infamous White House coffees, which Messrs. Clinton and Gore both deny against all evidence were fund-raisers, Mr. Wiriadinata approached the president and told him, "James Riady sent me." At the same Dec. 15, 1995, coffee, according to a videotape recently divulged by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, Mr. Gore can be heard telling Mr. Wiriadinata, "[W]e ought to show Mr. Riady the tapes, some of the ad tapes." Mr. Gore was, of course, referring to the DNC-sponsored Clinton-Gore issue ads that Mr. Wiriadinata's Lippo-related contributions had financed.

It's also worth recalling that Mr. Riady, who has reportedly bragged to Indonesian government ministers that he had a "direct pipeline to the Oval Office" and who claims Mr. Clinton took him into the White House Situation Room on the day federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, was also mysteriously present during the Sept. 13, 1995, White House meeting at which Huang was reassigned from the Commerce Department to the DNC as vice chairman of finance. Mr. Riady's fingerprints seem to be everywhere. Unfortunately, thanks to the conveniently incredible memory lapses of Messrs. Clinton and Gore and to Attorney General Janet Reno's nearly impenetrable stonewall, any smoking gun bearing Mr. Riady's fingerprints will not likely be uncovered before the November elections.

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